YORBA LINDA, Calif. (AP) — Almost a decade after Richard Nixon resigned, the disgraced former president sat down with his one-time aide and told the tale of his fall from grace in his own words.
For three decades, that version of one of the nation's largest and most-dissected political scandals largely gathered dust — until this week.
Starting Tuesday, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Nixon's resignation, portions of the tapes will be published each day by the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum and the private Richard Nixon Foundation. The postings begin with Nixon recalling the day he decided to resign and end Saturday — the date of his last day in office — with the 37th president discussing his final day at the White House, when he signed the resignation agreement, gave a short speech and boarded a helicopter for San Clemente, California.
The segments were culled from more than 30 hours of interviews that Nixon did with former aide Frank Gannon in 1983. The sections on Watergate aired publicly once, on CBS News, before gathering dust at the University of Georgia for more than 30 years.
"This is as close to what anybody is going to experience sitting down and having a beer with Nixon, sitting down with him in his living room," said Gannon, now a writer and historian in Washington, D.C.
"Like him or not, whether you think that his resignation was a tragedy for the nation or that he got out of town one step ahead of the sheriff, he was a human being," he said.
Nixon, who died in 1994, had hoped that providing his own narrative would help temper America's final judgment of him.
Perhaps with that in mind, he didn't shy away from the tough questions, commenting on everything from the threat of impeachment to the so-called "smoking gun" conversation that included evidence he participated in a Watergate cover-up.
"This was the final blow, the final nail in the coffin. Although you don't need another nail if you're already in the coffin — which we were," Nixon said in a segment about the June 23, 1972 tape.
Nixon said when he decided to resign, he faced such strong resistance from his wife that he brought a transcript of the "smoking gun" tape to a family meeting to show her how bad it was.
"I'm a fighter, I just didn't want to quit. Also I thought it would be an admission of guilt, which of course it was," he said. "And, also, I felt it would set a terribly bad precedent for the future."
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